I’m a little surprised that anyone would have a problem with John Sullivan’s stand on aggressive recruiting tactics. In my opinion, once you’ve made the decision to poach another company’s employees, you’ve already crossed the line. Other than misleading a candidate about the merits of the job, everything else a recruiter does to find and recruit top people in my opinion is fair game. If you’re targeting a candidate who has not first expressed an interest in working for your company, you are poaching. This is what recruiters do. It’s why corporations decided to develop in-house recruiting departments and to compete head-to-head with third-party search firms. So if you’re not poaching candidates, you’re not recruiting. And if you are recruiting, then you’re already stained, so to speak. If your company uses third-party recruiters, then your company is implicitly accepting the practice of poaching and ruses. I don’t know any good third-party recruiters who don’t do this. Once you’ve decided to poach, who really cares how you got the person’s name? This is a subset of poaching. You are already an accessory, so don’t try to self-righteously stand above the fray. How come no one is outraged that Fortune 500 companies are stealing other companies’ recruiters at ERE’s conferences or software developers at the .net users conference in Santa Clara? Of course, if you call it networking, then it’s apparently okay. This seems like nothing more than word-smithing to me. How come some sanctimonious people aren’t suggesting that the FCC should bar people from using the telephone because they are leaving misleading and ambiguous phone messages to try to get people to call them back to consider another career opportunity? How come people aren’t complaining about recruiters or hiring managers who walk into competitors’ stores, restaurants, or branch offices to poach? These are all ruses in my mind. Maybe the word “ruse” is the problem. Let’s call it something less sinister, like competitive intelligence (CI) gathering so it doesn’t sound as bad. Getting names through “competitive intelligence” has a more sophisticated aura about it. [To further stake my firm belief on the importance of CI, I am offering my own personal best practices award to the best non-Internet name-generating technique. The award will be presented at ERE’s ER Expo 2006 Spring. To apply, all you need to do is send me your best, most creative (and of course legal) technique for generating names without using the Internet. I’ll then review them with a small committee of judges to determine which one is the most creative and outrageous. I’ll even make the call with my attorney friend to see if any of them are illegal. The best legal and most outrageous technique will get the award, and I’ll personally pay for the winner’s entrance fee for ERE’s spring conference in San Diego.] I believe that using CI techniques to generate names is appropriate and essential. It should be part of every recruiter’s tool box. Furthermore, I don’t know of a single great (pre-Internet) recruiter who was in the top 10% of his or her group and who didn’t do it like an expert or expect their researcher to do it. If you couldn’t creatively generate names of top passive candidates, you were either destined to the average pile, or you weren’t too interested in finding absolutely the best people available for your client. If you want to find more passive candidates who haven’t been scoured over yet by the Internet data-mining experts (whom I applaud), you might want to consider using some non-Internet CI techniques. Here are a few of my favorites:
- Attend the annual ball. This is the technique where you call up the department admin or secretary and ask for some names of people to invite to a workshop or conference. Of course, most people won’t just give you the names without some convincing information. For one, you need to mention a real conference, e.g., the .net West Coast users group. There are some common objections you’ll need to address when you try this. Here’s one: “Just send me the information.” The response to this is something like, “I get paid for actual names, and each conference brochure is personally mailed to a person. Our company has found out that the highest response rate is when a personal invitation has been sent.” When the admin says she’s not allowed to provide names, ask who the supervisor would likely send to such a conference, and say you’ll just send the info directly to that person. Dropping a real name here is useful. “Would the supervisor send Bill Jones to the conference again?” is a great way to get the name of the best person in the group, since the admin now thinks you are legitimate. By the way, this is the method which conference marketing companies used to use to get names of potential attendees. They probably still do.
- “I’ll remember the name.” This is an old standby. First call up someone in the company who might know your target person. Then say something like, “I spoke last week to someone in accounting on the new accounting package, but can’t remember the person’s name. As soon as I hear it again I’ll recognize it. Who would be in charge of Sarbanes Oxley reporting?” Then urge the person to run through a list of likely suspects.
- The ski bug technique. This is a variation of “I can’t remember the name” and was one I actually used to get 20 rate clerks placed at Flying Tigers Airlines back in the early ’80s. In those days, pre-Fedex, shipping international packages required some complex freight calculations. My former boss was the CFO, and he gave me 20 reqs to fill at $2,000 each. I started calling freight forwarders using the “I can’t remember the name” technique, but I opened the door with, “I met a very nice woman last weekend who was looking at purchasing my VW bug and I can’t remember her name. I’m sure I’ll remember it if I hear it again. Does anyone at your firm match that description?” For every name, I asked for more information ó how smart they are, what their appearance is, whether they were a skier or not, etc. Then I would end the call saying that no names sounded familiar and suggested she probably didn’t work at that firm. I placed 14 people with Flying Tigers that month and placed an additional 6 managers at a 30% fee that same year.
- The back door approach. Call someone who works in another department for the name of someone they probably know. When calling the other person, say you must have gotten the wrong number and that you’re looking for the person responsible for hardware design or product marketing or whatever. For example, call procurement and ask for someone in engineering, or call accounts payable and ask for anyone. The accounts payable supervisor person knows everyone, and the person handling incoming calls would always give you the name of the A/P person.
- Plus or minus one. The key here was to get the extension number of just one person in the department you were targeting. If you had the resume of someone who worked in the company, this was pretty easy. It’s even easier today. Then just start calling other extensions and ask, “I got your name on a networking call as someone I should contact. Let me ask you, would you be open to exploring a situation if it was shown to be clearly superior to what you’re doing today?”
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Guide: Practical Tips for Remote Hiring
Getting names like this takes some guts. But it’s something every big biller did ó and probably still does ó if he or she wants to remain a big biller. If you were really good, you’d also generate some great referrals from everyone you called. This way you could find enough top candidates for any search in days. Now they talk about months to close a search. This does not seem like progress to me. So in my mind, getting names fast, making lots of cold calls, and getting great referrals was what recruiting was all about. I think it still is. Name generating this way doesn’t seem much different to me than running a Yahoo! search with some clever strings to find some “hidden” candidates. After all, it’s what you do next that really counts. Don’t ignore techniques like this. In the last few months, I’ve worked directly with over 300 hiring managers in some of the top firms in the country. Their biggest complaint with their corporate recruiters is that they’re not digging deep enough to find passive candidates. Hiring managers expect recruiters to generate names of passive candidates any way they can. They want top people, not excuses. During the ’80s and early ’90s, because of our success here, we were often called by companies to advise them on how to prevent recruiting firms from poaching their best employees. We suggested providing great jobs and great career opportunities. Bottom line is that’s what we were offering, and there’s nothing unethical about that.